STATE COLLEGE — As much as it might bother him, Sean Lee won’t be taken off the leash just yet.
On Wednesday, the senior linebacker returned to his first organized practice since tearing the ACL in his right knee last April. He said the knee has felt 100 percent for the last month and a half and he has no hesitation making cuts like the one on the Holuba Hall turf that stole his 2008 season.
“I felt good,” Lee said on Friday. “The game didn’t seem too fast.”
But the coaches aren’t about to let him go full speed.
Lee was fortunate enough to still have a redshirt available last spring, but that safety net is gone now and the staff doesn’t see any need for Lee to go full contact until the summer.
Besides – head coach Joe Paterno knows exactly what he has in Lee, who is a mortal lock to be a captain on the 2009 squad.
“Lee doesn’t have to prove anything to us,” Paterno said. “We know Lee’s a football player. ... Sean’s been great. He’s been one of the best kids I’ve ever coached. And I don’t mean only on the field – he’s out there all the time. He’s coaching kids. He does everything. So I’m gonna try to keep him out of contact as much as I can.”
Certainly it’s a little frustrating for the guy after being sidelined for the past 11 months, but Lee is just happy to be feeling back to normal.
“I know the knee is not an issue,” Lee said. “If something goes wrong out there or I miss something, it’s not because of the knee.”
The question of where exactly he will line up when he is allowed to go full speed is still out there. Lee said he expected to see time standing in at both inside and outside linebacker this spring.
He spent his first three seasons on the outside but was practicing in the middle when he suffered his injury last spring.
For his part, Lee said he has no preference as to where he ends up. But the rest of the linebacker corps will be watching the situation closely, as the other starters should fall into place around Lee.
Paterno is hoping to use the spring to try plugging different players in different spots before making any decisions on the depth chart.
“It depends on how the other kids come (along),” Paterno said. “Lee can play inside or outside. Lee is darn near good enough to be a strong safety athletically, so we may be tempted to play him outside.
“If we were going to suit up tomorrow, he’d probably play inside until we find out some things about the other kids.”
Like Lee, Paterno is feeling pretty spry himself these days.
The 82-year-old coach made it through the first practice without any problems, just four months removed from hip replacement surgery.
Paterno said he fully plans to return to the sideline this season after spending the majority of 2008 up in the coaches booth.
“Oh, I’m great,” Paterno said. “I was a little concerned about whether I needed a little help at practice, but I was there for a couple hours the other day. No problems whatsoever.”
Rising senior defensive tackle Jared Odrick was cited and fined for disorderly conduct earlier this month after allegedly getting into a fight outside an apartment on Feb. 28.
The incident, however, doesn’t seem to have affected his status on the team.
“Jared’s been a pretty good kid and he came to me – he called me up right after it happened the next day and we talked it out,” Paterno said. “Obviously, he had too much to drink and it was a Saturday night.
“Right now he’s OK. You only get so many shots though.”
Wyoming Valley Conference alums Ken Pollock (Lake-Lehman) and Gino Raineri (Meyers) are listed at linebacker and tight end, respectively, on the spring roster.
Other former District 2 players – all walk-ons – on the roster are QB Matt McGloin (West Scranton), safety David Keisling (Abington Heights), and WR Stephen Joseph (Lackawanna Trail).
“We’re working with the kid who came in here, McGloin, who is a walk-on from Scranton, who I like,” Paterno said.
Joining those five in the summer will be scholarship tackle Eric Shrive (West Scranton) and walk-on lineman J.R. Refice (Valley View).